Friday, February 6, 2015

Green is the New Red

Green is the New Red: An Insider's Account of a Social Movement Under Siege
© 2011 Will Potter
256 pages

Is passing out flyers the moral equivalent of flying a plane into a skyscraper and killing thousands of people?  Well, in some legal circles, yes. Will Potter found out how eager Uncle Sam is to take down 'disruptive elements' when he passed out flyers as part of an animal rights campaign after years of writing about the activism of others and feeling guilty for not changing the world himself.  Federal agents showed up at his door and forcefully suggested he tell them everything he knew about the organization, or else he might find himself on a terrorist watch list.  Shaken by their visit, and disgusted at his fear, Potter decided to dig into  how and why the government had become so interested in consumer activism. Green is the New Red, the story of a group of young people called the SHAC-7 arrested and jailed for political crimes, is the result.

Although its title may indicate that environmentalism itself is under siege by the government,the focus here is animal rights activism. The SHAC 7 were associated with a movement called Stop Huntington Animal Cruelty, a campaign aimed against an animal-testing lab in the US and the UK. While SHAC itself was not a formal organization that carried out actions, it collected  and published information that could be used in campaigns -- information like the names and addresses of the lab's employees, executives, and shareholders.  Organizations like the Animal Liberation Front used that information to carry out actual attacks, which ranged from the benign (leaftlet campaigns) to the dangerous (arson). This collated information was also of service to demented individuals who broke into one woman's home, stole her dirty underwear, and used it to threaten rape. An aspirational activist, Potter does not shy away from the fact that some of the information-sharing was irresponsible. His concern here is not necessarily to exonerate the group, but to but to reveal and criticize the ferocious Federal response against them.  The seven, and other animal rights activists, are being treated as not only violent criminals, but capital-T Terrorists on the level of Al-Quaeda.  The SHAC-coordinated attacks on HLS were a triumph, reducing the company's stock so swiftly that lenders abandoned it as a credit risk, but no one was hurt. Property was damaged during the numerous lab-torchings, but no blood was shed. Potter compares the severe handling of the seven to groups that actually threaten and visit violence on others, like militia groups, the odd anarchist, and a few misguided pro-lifers. Whereas ordinary criminal laws applied to these acts of aggression, those associated with SHAC were interned in the same maximum-security sites as jihadists, and their names uttered in the same breath. Potter believes that the state's ferocity is provoked by its economic ties to the corporations whose bottom line is being disrupted.

That the State exists to protect and advance the interests of property is undisputed. Indeed, most attracted to a book of this kind about political activism will probably hold it as the truth. More to the point is the problem Potter identifies of the government's modern ability to freely label activists as enemies of the state. The problem lies in the many and nebulous definitions of terrorism, and the fact that once someone is declared a terrorist that normal rights, procedures, and the like go out the window. Although ALF did seek to use the threat of violence to force HLS to alter or stop the most abusive of its practices, its intent was not to incite terror in a population, and especially not through hurting innocents.  The PATRIOT Act's definition of terrorism is so vague that most acts of civil disobedience, including those practiced by Martin Luther King, qualify.  Modern presidents have an actrocious track record where civil liberties are concerned, and any threat to them must be checked. While Potter is somewhat hopeful that government persecution will create a larger problem than it solves -- he points out that the trial only caused an upsurge in activist attacks on HLS --  a more recent round of arrests has effectively ended the SHAC campaign.   The specter of federal agents arresting anyone who makes a fuss is arguably more daunting than the thought of a company losing equipment to arson:  civil liberties are much harder to restore than buildings.

The Ethical Assassin, David Liss. Said fellow is an animal rights warrior. 

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